1959: Fidel Castro becomes the 16th Prime Minister of Cuba. He was born in 1926 in Biran, Oriente Province, Cuba. He was eventually sent to live with a teacher in Santiago de Cuba and it was there he was baptized Catholic when he was eight. This allowed him to be educated at the La Salle boarding school in Santiago. He went on to a more prestigious Jesuit run school. He was not an excellent student and spent most of time playing sports. In 1945 he entered law school at the University of Havana and there began his interest in politics. He joined the violent gang culture of the university and decried US involvement in the Caribbean and the corruption of Cuban politics.
In June 1947, Castro joined an expedition to invade the Dominican Republic and overthrow Rafael Trujillu, but the Cuban president was pressured to stop the invasion. Castro was not arrested but when he returned to college, he took a more active leadership role in campus politics as it intersected with the government. In 1948 he married the daughter of a wealthy family and while neither family was overjoyed, the couple was treated to a three month honeymoon in New York City. Upon return to Cuba, Castro opened a law practice catering to the legal issues of the poor. The business was a financial failure. He wanted to run for Congress in the June 1952 elections under the Ortodoxo party, but leaders were fearful of his radical reputation and refused to nominate him. He was nominated by Havana’s poor to run for a seat in the House of Representatives.
While campaigning, Castro met General Fulgencio Batista, a former president who was returning to politics. They were polite but not mutually supportive. In March 1952, Batista seized power and declared himself President. Castro formed a group amongst the poor to fight Batista’s power grab. Castro declared himself a revolutionary socialist and refused the communist name. The revolt he planned was a failure and Castro was eventually captured. He acted as his own lawyer, unsuccessfully, and was imprisoned. After his release, he once again planned an overthrow of the dictator. A guerilla war ensued and eventually Batista was routed. His abdication was announced on January 1, 1959.
A provisional government was set up and Castro put himself into a position of power. While Manuel Urrutia Lleo was declared president, Castro had a great deal of power and called himself Representative of the Rebel Armed Forces of the Presidency. He set up programs to increase literacy and decrease corruption as well as ridding the government of any Batista leftover followers. One of his first acts after being made Prime Minister was to visit the US in order to open channels of communication. He met President Nixon and did not like him. He then went on a larger good will tour of the Americas. On his return home he instituted several new policies helping the impoverished and repeatedly called himself a socialist and refused the label of communist.
The revolution is a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters.
A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.
I am not a communist and neither is the revolutionary movement.
I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, it is alienating… because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition. – all from Fidel Castro
December 2, 1956: The Granma arrives at Oriente province in Cuba. Aboard were Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and 80 other members of the 26th of July Movement. The 60-foot yacht sailed from Tuxpan, Mexico to Playa Las Coloradas, Cuba. It was built in 1943 and meant to carry only 12 passengers. It was purchased on October 10, 1956 for $15,000 USD from a US company. The purchaser was a private Mexican citizen. The buyer may have been a gun dealer named Antonio del Conde who was supposedly representing Fidel Castro. The money available wasn’t enough to buy the ship Castro wanted, but the funds raised in Florida by former President of Cuba, Prio Socarras, was enough to buy this yacht.
Granma set sail shortly after midnight on November 25 and the boat was then secretly boarded by the 82 members of the 26th of July Movement. The Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, were both aboard when the ship finally sailed from port around 1 AM. The ship was over laden and leaky and nearly sank. However, it finally made its way to Cuba where the passengers were able to once again touch land at Playa Las Coloradas. The province today is named after the ship that carried the revolutionaries to Cuba.
The 26th of July Movement was named after a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953. This early attempt to take over an army facility in Cuba led to the exile of the rebels. They were reorganized in 1955 and the 82 exiles began to train a disciplined guerrilla force to overthrow the government of Cuba and depose Fulgencio Batista. The rebels were led by Fidel Castro and his brother, Camilo Cienfuegos, Huber Matos, and Che Guevara.
When they landed on this day, they were prepared to organize their revolution from inside Cuba. They landed in broad daylight and were attacked by the Cuban Air Force, suffering many casualties. The party was split in two and were lost for two days. They abandoned many of their supplies at the landing site and were betrayed by their local peasant guide, leading to more rebel deaths. Seventy of the landing party never managed to make it to the regroup point in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Guevara, who had studied medicine, was wounded at the landing but gave first aid to others as he was not seriously injured. The rebels finally managed to ignite their revolution which took two years to end. Batista fled Cuba on January 1, 1959 and Fidel Castro came to power.
“A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.”
“I am Fidel Castro and we have come to liberate Cuba.”
“I began revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action.”
“No thieves, no traitors, no interventionists! This time the revolution is for real!” – all from Fidel Castro
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